FIRST-PERSON: Christians & self-esteem

by Joshua Clayton , posted Tuesday, July 25, 2017 (4 months ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Specifically among believers, let's consider for a moment how popular it has become to promote a positive self-image, to affirm personal identity in self and to uplift confidence in one's own ability.

Whether a mother uplifting her daughter's self-image or a speaker proclaiming a message to make people "feel better" about themselves, is it biblical to promote high self-esteem for those in the body of Christ?

I've wrestled with this question in my early years of the faith. Uplifting and encouraging others always seemed to be a noble task the church should champion. In fact, why would anyone get upset at people promoting self-esteem among other Christians, making them feel good or uplifting them in their abilities?

This, however, is not a matter of what sounds best; rather, we must consider whether promoting high self-esteem lines up with Scripture. As believers, we have the blessed assurance of knowing our faith is firmly grounded in the absolute truths of Scripture (Psalm 1:1-3). In the Word, we find life (Proverbs 4:4), hope (Titus 2:13) and ultimate fulfillment (Psalm 3:2-6) because we find each page saturated with Jesus. Thus, if we are striving to be biblical, let's hold the phrase "high self-esteem" up to the Bible and ask: Is promoting self-esteem a biblical concept?

Self-esteem can be defined as the subjective self-measure of an individual's worth and value. According to psychology, when every humanistic need is met, mankind can reach their ultimate fulfillment, or "self-actualization." Therefore, a self-actualized individual is one who has fulfilled all humanistic needs -- one of those being high self-esteem. Psychology teaches that the good in self can help one attain ultimate satisfaction. At its very core, this is not a biblical concept, but a psychological construct.

Why does this concept of esteeming self pose a problem for believers? Let me use a personal example. I may not remember the specific date the Lord saved me, but I will never forget what happened that day. I was lying on my bedroom floor, mourning the sinful life I was choosing to live. Granted, at the time I was about 8 years old, but the impact of God's Word resonated so deep that it pierced my calloused heart.

God's Word showed me that I was a foul sinner (Romans 3:23), completely helpless in my current state (Romans 5:6) and fighting to see the destruction of God's Kingdom (Galatians 5:17). The Spirit brought about my brokenness, and without a miraculous change (2 Corinthians 5:17) from God's own choosing (John 6:44), my life was destined for destruction and death (2 Thessalonians 1:8). The constant teaching of Scripture depicted me as an individual always in this perpetual state of dependence and brokenness.

One thing is certain: once I understood this, I did not feel very good about myself or my abilities. In fact, none of the believers I know who fully grasp their depravity regard these truths as a boost to their self-esteem.

That is because our confidence, hope and fulfillment are not found in what I discover deep within myself. Even if there were a way to bring the deepest depths of my heart to light, I would only be deceived by the wickedness that comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, that which I choose to esteem should not be myself; rather, I exalt the God who is able to save.

Promotion of the self-esteem psychological construct deviates from Scripture because everything psychology suggests for man's ultimate need is contrary to God's Word. While psychology seeks to exalt man, God places believers on a completely opposite trajectory. God is glorified when man takes on a posture of decreasing self (John 3:30). The ultimate goal of seeking to promote high self-esteem is to teach man to depend on man, whereas the ultimate goal of Christianity is show man that, apart from God, he can do nothing (John 15:5). Therefore, may our churches always turn our hearts towards the ultimate fulfillment -- Christ.

But wait a minute....

Are you saying it's unbiblical to promote confidence within my children, family and friends? How is it unbiblical to uplift their spirits by encouraging them?

Let's be on the same page when it comes to defining the word "confidence." According to Scripture, we are to "put no confidence in the flesh," but only "boast in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:3). It's true that we, as believers, are called to pursue mutual uplifting (Romans 14:19), encouraging one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and stirring our brothers/sisters toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). However, notice that we are to pursue these godly acts in order to point believers back toward the greatest fulfillment, which can only be found in Christ.

It is not unbiblical to uplift, encourage and instill confidence within fellow believers that will stir their affections toward Christ. It is contrary to Scripture when we turn those affections to our own abilities. Confidence and encouragement should always be found through the weakness of self, which points us to our hope of being eternally satisfied in Jesus Christ alone.

Joshua Clayton is executive assistant to the vice president for strategic initiatives and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and managing editor of the seminary's Theological Matters website (www.theologicalmatters.com), where this column first appeared. He also is a member of the SBC Executive Committee Young Leaders Advisory Council.
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